You are on page 1of 16

Briefing Paper

A Hunger Watch Publication January 2009


© ACF / S. Hauenstein Swan

Feeding
Hunger and
Insecurity
The Global Food Price Crisis

A summary of Action Against


Hunger research in Ethiopia,
Sierra Leone, Central African
Republic and Liberia

I n 2007 and 2008 international food and oil prices


soared causing riots in over 30 countries, threaten-
ing to undo any progress made towards Millennium
Key Messages
Even though global food prices are falling, local
prices have continued to increase or have re-
Development Goals 1 and 4 – eradicating hunger and mained at their inflated level for most vulnerable
under-five child mortality. In this report, Action Against countries
Hunger looks at the impact these global trends had on Despite no clear increase in severe malnutrition,
malnutrition and food security. Despite cereal prices high prices consistently forced families to adopt
falling on the global market, recent surveillance shows damaging coping strategies to maintain staple
that food commodity prices have remained high or in- food consumption; ‘seasonality’ shows that this
creased in 32 of the 36 vulnerable countries monitored can have long-term implications for poverty, vul-
(WFP 2008c). Action Against Hunger’s assessments nerability and malnutrition
in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic Context matters; urgent funding is needed to trans-
and Liberia revealed that the high cost of food in 2008 late global policy into effective responses address-
did not conclusively result in an immediate increase ing the needs of those most affected and most
in acute malnutrition1 at the national level, but had a vulnerable
significant and consistent impact on livelihoods and Interventions must be inclusive, coordinated and
dietary diversity in all four countries. The findings pre- comprehensive, addressing both agricultural pro-
sented in this report underscore the urgent need for an duction and nutrition in tandem, both in the short
immediate, effective and unified response to hunger. and long-run at the global, national and local level

Action Against Hunger / Action Contre la Faim (ACF) is a global humanitarian organization committed to saving the
lives of malnourished children while providing families with access to safe water and long-term solutions to hunger.

Action Against Hunger www.actionagainsthunger.org


Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

© ACF
H igh global food commodity prices translated, in
varying degrees, into higher domestic food pric-
es, increasing the number of undernourished people
triggering a regular seasonal spike in malnutrition.
Worries that high global prices may have a similar
effect prompted Action Against Hunger to launch a
from 850 million in 2005 to 963 million in 2008. While number of country studies to better understand how
the rise in prices may come to the benefit of net food high and volatile food commodity prices affect house-
sellers, for the majority of small-scale farmers, rural hold food security and malnutrition. Four basic ques-
farm workers and the urban poor in less developed tions were asked: Do high global food prices translate
countries who are net food buyers, the global in- into local increases in malnutrition? Are all countries
creases were an additional threat to their survival. equally affected? How do the effects of high prices
vary within a specific context? Was the response
Substantial evidence shows that high food prices good enough? The case studies presented in this
during the annual hunger season prompt damaging briefing paper answer each question in turn.
household behaviour as families struggle to survive,

Figure 1: Changes in food and oil prices between January 2007 and November 2008
350
FAO Food Prices Index
300
Crude oil (normal price)
Indexed price

250

200
Wheat (index based on US Gulf
150 price, baseline Jan 2007)
100 Rice (FAO index)
50
Maize (index based on US Gulf
0 price, baseline Jan 2007)
07

07

07

08

08

8
-0

l-0

-0

-0

l-0

-0

-0

2
n-

n-

-
ar

ay

pt

ov

ar

ay

pt

ov
Ju

Ju

Source: FAO 2008b


Ja

Ja
Se

Se
M

M
M

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

The ‘Old Face’ of ‘New Hunger’: the quality and, later, the quantity of food consumed.
Seasonal Deprivation Maintaing staple food consumption at the expense
Volatile food commodity prices are not new to poor of more micronutrients-dense foods, like eggs, meat
households. Literature on ‘seasonality’ describes reg- or milk, can result in micronutrient deficiencies,
ular, yet unpredictable, fluctuations in various dimen- a weakened immune system and, if prolonged,
sions of welfare and poverty, from births to deaths, weight loss, causing malnutrition rates to rise. As
milk production to malaria, often stemming from intra- food insecurity intensifies, more households adopt
annual climatic variations (figure 2a). Despite a mul- damaging, irreversible coping strategies such as
titude of possible interventions, many of the world’s selling assets and livestock, or borrowing at high
poorest people continue to face an annual ‘hunger interest rates using their land and future harvest as
season’ in the build up to the local harvest period. collaterals.

Fluctuations in food prices are compounded by lack The impacts of high food prices do not always
of access to formal credit and inadequate storage manifest in an immediate rise in malnutrition, but
facilities forcing households to sell produce rapidly can have catastrophic consequences in later years.
after the harvest at low prices, to repay expensive Seasonal hunger is the ‘father of famine’. Individuals
debts contracted in the hunger season, pay school and communities are frequently forced to gamble their
and hospital fees and to avoid losing a significant future welfare to live today, which often has serious
proportion of the harvest to pests and decay. The repercussions for livelihoods in later months/years.
same farmers then return to the market only months Steadily depleted assets can increase household
later to buy food back at new higher prices. Seasonal vulnerability to seasonal and global price rises in later
increases in food prices exhibit a clear link with acute years as coping mechanisms become more limited.
malnutrition. This phenomenon is not new. Figure Even if followed by a good harvest, the legacy of a past
2b shows the correlation between malnutrition and hazard may remain as assets cannot be fully restored
changes in staple food prices in Ghana 1988/89 as immediately. The household will remain vulnerable to
the seasons progressed. Poor people throughout the future shocks. It is this debilitating, downward spiral
developing world remain trapped by this annual cycle of seasonal suffering that preceded the food crises
of seasonal deprivation. in Malawi (2001/02) and Niger (2005), where food
crises occurred in years when harvests were better
When faced with seasonal food price increases, than or only marginally below the average.
poor families almost universally react by restricting

Figure 2a: Malnutrition, malaria and rainfall in Figure 2b: Seasonality in food prices and
Niger 2007 malnutrition in northern Ghana 1988/89

8 SAM 180 0.35 Malnutrition 52


Malnourished children (%)
SAM and malaria cases

7 Malaria 160 Millet price


50
6 140
(% of year total)

Rainfall
Rainfall (mm)

120 0.30 48
5
£ / kg

100
4 46
80
3
60 0.25 44
2 40
42
1 20
0 0 0.20 40
0 10 20 30 40 50 J F M A M J J A S O N D
Hunger period Harvest
3
Week Source: WHO
Month Source: Devereux 1992

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

Figure 3a: Percentage of families adopting each Figure 3b: Percentage of families adopting each
coping strategy in Malawi in 2002 and 1999 coping strategy in Ethiopia in 2006

Rationed food Rationed food

Cut spending Cut spending

Sold assets Sold assets

Borrowed Borrowed

Migrated Migrated

2002
Informal help 1999 Informal help

0 20 40 60 80 100 0 20 40 60 80 100
Source: Devereux et al 2008

What’s New?
Understanding the seasonal dimensions of poverty almost identical to those adopted during the hunger
implies two important questions when examining the season (and famines). Each case study reveals that
Global Food Price Crisis. Did high food prices cause households consistently reduced their diets in both
an increase in malnutrition? If not did global food price quantity and diversity, a finding that is also supported
rises force people to adopt damaging coping strate- by studies conducted in 2008 by FAO and WFP in
gies paving the way for future nutritional crises? some of the countries most vulnerable to global price
shocks (see figure 4). There is a danger that the high
The response to the former is mixed. Action Against food prices in developing countries may continue to
Hunger’s research indicates malnutrition rates in- impact millions of households already threatening to
creased definitively in a number of districts in Ethi- slip into greater poverty. It is beyond doubt that high
opia, but statistics are unavailable or inconclusive global food commodity prices in 2007/08 will continue
for Central African Republic, Sierra Leone and Li- to have serious implications for livelihoods and micro-
beria. However, the coping strategies used by the nutrient malnutrition and could trigger a slow-onset
poor in response to high global food prices are crisis if appropriate action is not taken today.

Figure 4: Coping mechanisms employed in five countries as a response to rising food prices in 2008

Eating less quality/


Yemen
less preferred foods
Reducing portion sizes
Tajikistan
Reducing the number of meals
Pakistan
Give preference to children
Lesotho
Purchase food on credit

Liberia
Rely on help from friends
and family
0 20 40 60 80 100
Percentage of households Source: LVAC 2008, WFP July 2008, FAO 2008a,
4 Government of Tajikistan 2008 and WFP 2008

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

So far, the response has not been good enough. In SNNPR, Ethiopia: Reduced Terms of
order to design effective interventions, we need to Trade and Increased Malnutrition
stop relying on estimates and economic models and Action Against Hunger conducted a study in the
look at the facts. Action Against Hunger carried out Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region
research in Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Si- of Ethiopia (SNNPR). This region was affected by
erra Leone and Liberia. These countries were cho- drought in 2008 and is characterised by agricultural
sen either because our teams in the field observed communities producing enset (kocho) and maize for
an increase in admission rates to feeding programs subsistence consumption and coffee as a cash crop.
earlier than the seasonal norm (Ethiopia / Liberia) or
because of the strategic context they represent. The Kocho price remains stable, maize price soars
Central African Republic is a landlocked country and In this region kocho prices have remained relatively
Sierra Leone is highly dependant on imported rice to stable (figure 5), the cost of maize increased by over
feed its urban population. 75%, cabbage by over 66% and haricot beans by
over 20%. High international prices of cereals and
A principle finding of this Action Against Hunger re- inflated oil prices in the region had some effect but
port is that context matters. While high and volatile drought and conflict remain the most significant fac-
global food price rises are only a single factor affect- tor behind the price rises of locally produced foods.
ing poverty and malnutrition, all four studies show
that the impacts on livelihoods are considerable and High staple food prices damage terms of trade
wide-spread. In general, the remuneration from various sources

Figure 5: Evolution of the terms of trade

a: Coffee vs kocho b: Coffee vs maize

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
400 2.50 400 1.60
1.40
Terms of trade

Terms of trade
2.00
300 300 1.20
1.50 1.00
Price

Price

200 200 0.80


1.00 0.60
100 100 0.40
0.50
0.20
0 0.00 0 0.00
2006 2007 2008 2006 2007 2008
Raw coffee Kocho Raw coffee Maize
Raw coffee / kocho Terms of change Raw coffee / maize Terms of change
raw coffee / kocho raw coffee / maize

c: Oxen sale vs maize d: Daily labour vs maize

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
2500 12.00 12 7.00
10.00 10 6.00
Terms of trade

Terms of trade

2000
8.00 8 5.00
1500
Price

Price

4.00
6.00 6
1000 3.00
4.00 4 2.00
500 2.00 2 1.00
0 0.00 0 0.00
2006 2007 2008 2006 2007 2008
Livestock sale (ox) Maize Daily labour (/day) Maize (kg)
Livestock sale (ox) / Terms of change Daily labour / maize Terms of change
5
maize ox / maize daily labour / maize
Source: ACF 2008c

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

of income in the SNNPR region has improved since Figure 6: Global acute malnutrition in Ethiopia
2005. Coffee prices almost doubled between 2006
35
and 2008 leading to a significant increase in terms of
30
trade against kocho. This trend can also be observed
25
with other income sources but not with maize. A giv-

GAM (%)
en amount of raw coffee would purchase 3 percent 20

less maize than 2007; of oxen 23 percent less; and a 15

day’s labour 24 percent less. Farmers also received 10


34 percent more for oxen and 14 percent for sheep 5
in April 2008, compared to three years earlier. The 0
daily rate for agricultural labour also improved by 38

03

03

04

04

05

05

06

06

07

07

08

08
n-

n-

n-

n-

n-

n-

n-

n-

n-

n-

n-

n-
percent. However, superior income is unlikely to have

Ja

Ju

Ja

Ju

Ja

Ju

Ja

Ju

Ja

Ju

Ja

Ju
compensated fully for increased food prices. Source: ENCU Survey Library

Malnutrition and under-five mortality rates go up sert that these increases were related only to food
Increases in prices generally lead to deterioration in price rises.
diet quality. Consumption of high-quality micronutri-
ent-rich foods will be reduced while staple food con- Lessons from Ethiopia: Increased food prices
sumption remains largely the same at first. In the case were followed by increased malnutrition
of Ethiopia it is likely that staple foods will be replaced Research in Ethiopia shows that high food prices
by cheaper lower quality staples, i.e. that maize will have led to significant changes in terms of trade of
be replaced by kocho, which has a lower vitamin A food and livestock, with the exception of kocho. The
and protein density than maize (Abebe 2006). impact of the prices will have depended very much
on the ability and willingness of households to adapt
In order to determine whether these changes have their diets and income sources – in the SNNPR,
led to an increase in malnutrition rates at the coun- those dependent on coffee whose staple food is ko-
try level, survey results from the past five years were cho will have been least affected. Survey data shows
plotted on graph. Figure 6 shows that at the national that malnutrition and under-five mortality rates have
level no increase in malnutrition rates can be seen. increased in three districts within the SNNPR, cor-
However, data from three districts in the SNNPR responding with high food prices. No change in mal-
indicates that rates of malnutrition and under-five nutrition rates was seen at the national level indicat-
mortality increased in late 2007 and early 2008 (see ing that country level data is too imprecise for policy
figure 7). While data was selected on the basis of making and that surveillance data from the local level
regularity and completeness, it is not possible to as- is needed.

Figure 7: Global acute malnutrition and under-five mortality rates in three districts of the SNNPR
25 Damot Weyde/Wolayita 2.5 Damot Weyde/Wolayita
Under-five mortality rate
(mortality / 10000/day)

Offa/Wolayita Offa/Wolayita
20 2.0
Boricha/Sidama Boricha/Sidama
GAM (%)

15 1.5

10 1.0

5 0.5

6 0 0
04

05

05

06

04

05

05

06
03

04

06

07

07

08

03

04

06

07

07

08
g-

b-

g-

b-
b-

g-

b-
g-

g-

b-

g-

b-

g-

b-

g-

b-

g-

b-

g-

b-
Au

Fe

Fe

Au

Fe
Au

Fe

Au

Au

Fe

Au

Fe

Au

Fe

Au

Fe

Au

Fe

Au

Fe

Source: ENCU Survey Library

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity
© Julien Goldstein

Bangui, Central African Republic: June 2008 (High Level Task Force 2008), or compared
A Mixed Message with countries like Bangladesh which experienced food
The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the price rises in excess of 100 percent from 2007 to 2008.
poorest countries in the world. Ranked fifth in FAO’s
vulnerability assessment, the country displays char- Reduced food consumption without changes in
acteristics that make it both vulnerable and resilient income and expenditure
to food price rises. A substantial food and oil import In Bangui, the most common coping strategies are
bill threatens the already high budget deficit. About eating less preferred, less expensive, less diverse
half the population spend more than 80% of their in- foods. These ‘replacement’ foods are of lower qual-
come on food, making even small food price rises a ity, i.e. less nutrient-dense, putting people’s nutrition-
significant burden for households. However, the CAR al status at risk. Staple food consumption, and thus
is landlocked, largely disconnected from the global carbohydrate and energy intake, remains largely the
economy and has poorly developed infrastructure. same at first, while micronutrient intake is reduced.
Additionally, the availability of cassava, the country’s This is followed by a reduction in portion sizes and the
dominant staple, is largely dependent on local pro- number of meals. In September 2008, households re-
duction. Action Against Hunger’s assessment of food ported eating fewer meals than a year earlier. Before
security and nutrition in Bangui between August and the crisis, 50% of the households surveyed ate two
September 2008 found mixed results. or more meals per day while that number had more
than halved after the crisis (now 24%). However, when
A moderate rise in prices asked whether their situation had changed over the
Food prices in Bangui rose by about 20 percent be- last few months, 63% of households felt that the im-
tween April and July. Fuel prices increased more dra- pact of the food price rises had a relatively moderate
matically, rising by a similar margin in only two months impact on livelihoods (see figure 8). Only 10 percent of
after April 2008. The observed price rises are moder- surveyed households reported a decrease in income
ate on a global scale where food prices rose by 51 per- and an increase in expenditure – which may have sig-
7
cent in the 12 months build-up to the Rome Summit in nificant long-term consequences for these families.

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

Table 1: Results of Action Against Hunger’s nutrition surveys in Bangui

January 2006 January 2007 September 2008


GAM (95% CI)* 4.7 (2.9- 7.2) 5.8 (4.2-7.4) 6.2 (4.5-7.8)
SAM (95% CI)* 0.7 (0.1-2.1) 0.55 (0-1.1) 0.6 (0.2-1.1)
Stunting (95% CI)* 29.5 (25.3- 33.9) 31.5 (27.7-35.3) 30.2 (25.5-35.0)
U5MR (95% CI) 0.98 (0.98- 0.99) 0.36 (0.19-0.92) 0.85 (0.13-0.97)
*NCHS reference

Source: ACF Surveys

Figure 8: Self-perceived change in household crease significantly in early 2008, but this may be for
income and expenditure between 2007 and 2008 reasons other than an increase in malnutrition such
as a better knowledge of the services available and
13% an increase in the catchment area.

Lessons from the CAR: limited immediate impact


with some cause for concern
14% The impact of global food price rises in the CAR ap-
pears to have been more limited than in Ethiopia
and Sierra Leone. The majority of families surveyed
perceived their current income and expenditure as
unchanged or better than a year earlier and malnutri-
10% tion rates do not appear to have increased in Bangui.
63%
However, the increase in admissions to the feeding
centre and the self-reported reduction in food con-
sumption by many households may be cause for con-
Income and expenditure
cern. The international community must continue to
Income decreased and
unchanged or better expenditure increased monitor the situation in the CAR.
Income decreased Expenditure increased

Source: ACF 2008a © ACF / S. Hauenstein Swan

A non-significant increase in malnutrition


Despite higher food prices and reduced food con-
sumption in Bangui, there was no clear impact on
malnutrition. Table 1 shows that global acute mal-
nutrition, severe acute malnutrition and under-five
child mortality rates have shown only non-significant
increases between January 2006 and September
2008 – though seasonality makes it difficult to com-
pare these statistics accurately. Admissions to Action
Against Hunger’s Therapeutic Feeding Centre did in-
8

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity
© ACF / S. Hauenstein Swan

Freetown, Sierra Leone: ‘hunger season’, when families rely more on imported
Varying Impacts Within A City rice because local produce is more expensive and in
Since 2002, Sierra Leone has been recovering from short supply before the harvest. In October, discus-
civil war. Food prices are intensely political and hun- sants perceived the price of rice as having stabilised
ger remains a threat to long-term security. Malnutrition and starting to decrease.
remains very high, with 27 percent of under-fives re-
ported underweight. High inflation (over 10 percent),
stunting rates (37 percent) and poverty levels (be- Figure 9: Map of study areas in Freetown
tween 65-75 percent) prompted FAO to rank Sierra
Leone sixth in its assessment of national vulnerability Suzanne Bay
to global price rises. Action Against Hunger’s assess- Kossoh Town
ment concentrated on the capital Freetown, home to
more than 760,000 people, of whom 60 percent are Congo
Water
under-25 years old and 97 percent rely primarily on
the market for food.
Mamba
Rice prices increase as the hungry season sets in Tengbeh Ridge
Town
From January to March 2008, rice prices increased
by 64 percent and fuel prices by about 15 percent
between January and May. Price fluctuations eased
in July and were expected to fall by the end of the
year following a good harvest. Discussion groups re- Food price changes and malnutrition vary within
vealed that people had experienced a real increase the city
in food prices during April and May. Participants re- Not all sections of the city were equally affected.
flected that they had been very worried as the price Congo Water experienced the greatest increase in
9
rises corresponded with the beginning of the annual rice prices compared to the same period a year ear-

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

Table 2: Types of food not consumed in 2008 compared to 2007 (percentage of people)

Any Meat Vegatable Dairy Fruit Fresh Other Cereals/


fish tubers
Tengbeh Town 92.5 42.5 45 37.5 35 15 0 0
Suzanne Bay 30 15 10 2.5 0 2.5 10 2.5
Kossoh Town 85 70 7.5 30 10 2.5 12.5 2.5
Mamba Ridge 92.5 52.5 7.5 20 5 17.5 5 15
Congo Water 76.2 38.1 33.3 2.4 33.3 9.5 19 16.7
TOTAL 75.2 43.6 20.8 18.3 16.8 9.4 9.4 7.4
Source: ACF 2008b

lier (60 percent from Le419 to Le6802). A snapshot Dietary diversity decreased
of malnutrition captured during the study also shows Meat consumption was most radically affected and
significant variation within the city – with greatest 43 percent of respondents reported they no longer
prevalence in Suzanne Bay (2.4 SAM and 7.8 GAM) consumed meat. This change was most extreme in
and lowest in Tengbeh Town (0 SAM and 0.6 GAM). Kossoh Town, where 70 percent reduced their con-
There are fears that these levels have increased due sumption despite good access to meat in the local
to high food prices, but without longitudinal data no market. Consumption of other food types was also
assessment of changes can be made. However, fig- affected to varying degrees (see table 2) and may
ure 10 shows that sections experiencing the greatest lead to a rise in malnutrition in later months/years
increase in prices, Kossoh Town and Congo Water, stemming from micronutrient deficiencies. High food
were also the areas where people decreased their prices are putting greater strain on household budg-
quantity of rice eaten per day most. ets, restricting more than food consumption. The
poorest families reported sending fewer children to
school and avoiding hospitals (going to pharmacies
Figure 10: Changes in rice prices and
consumption in Freetown instead) to reduce expenses.Lessons from Sierra

70 Leone: price rises and household behaviour var-


Rice prices
60 ied even within a city
Rice consumption
Percentage change

50 Despite a difficult period early 2008, it seems that in


40 Freetown the peak of the crisis is over following a
30 good harvest. Prices started to drop in July and may
20 return to a normal level. No conclusions can be made
10 Mamba Tengbeh Suzanne Kossoh Congo regarding the impacts on malnutrition, but there is
Ridge Town Bay Town Water
0 concern that reduced consumption of rice and mi-
-10 cronutrient-dense foods could cause a future rise in
-20 malnutrition. Furthermore, decreasing expenditure
Source: ACF 2008b
on healthcare and schooling may have detrimental
long-term effects on welfare and development.

10

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity
© Richard Leeney

Monrovia, Liberia: Government on rice imposed by India and China significantly con-
Responses and ACF Recommendations strained rice imports in Liberia as the cost of import-
The Liberian economy has been severely affected ing a ton of rice rose from US$ 400 in October 2007
by the two civil wars fought between 1989 and 2003. to over $1,000 per ton in mid-2008. Palm oil, cas-
Since 2005, the Liberian trade deficit has widened sava, meat and fish, major parts of the urban diet, all
due to rising import prices. Petroleum is Liberia’s increased in price.
principle import (25 percent of total imports) followed
by food (24 percent of total imports). Expenditure on Observed: reductions in dietary diversity
petroleum and food has increased by 37 percent and coupled with increase in malnutrition
280 percent respectively since 2005. Rice accounts On average, households spend 52 percent of their
for 65.3 percent of all food imports and 92 percent income on food in Monrovia. Deteriorating purchas-
of rice consumed in urban areas is imported. De- ing power has reduced food consumption and altered
spite great potential (some areas may permit three diets. Low income groups have concentrated their
harvests per year), food production has never really expenditures on staple food and reduced expendi-
been developed, rendering local produce uncom- ture on foods rich in protein and micronutrients. High
petitive. Transportation networks are poor in Liberia, transport costs have also directly affected household
restricting the commercialisation of local production budgets, as they represent the second major house-
and forcing urban coastal populations to become hold expenditure after food. The capacity of petty trad-
more reliant on imports for food. ers (a predominant income source for poor women)
to invest into their running capital has been severely
Trading restrictions in the East affect food depleted and some claimed they had terminated their
imports in West Africa businesses as a result of high costs. The increased
The study in Monrovia was the first to be conducted participation of children to household economy was
and no precise data was available for price changes also cited as a reaction to higher prices, though the
in 2008, though food price inflation was higher than scale of this trend is unknown.
11
the 19 percent average of 2007. Trade restrictions

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

In February 2008, Action Against Hunger found GAM Removing the import tax will cost Liberia US$ 6 mil-
and SAM rates of 17.6 and one percent, respectively. lion over a one year period, leading to cuts in govern-
Action Against Hunger observed an increase of 40 ment expenditure or a rise in the budget deficit, with
percent of new admissions to its therapeutic feeding significant consequences for development.
programs from April to May. However, these cannot
be completely attributed to global food price rises as Action Against Hunger recommendations for
this period overlaps with the annual hunger season Liberia
in Monrovia. The Liberian Government has taken strides to protect
some citizens from high food prices and boost na-
A government’s responses tional food production – but these have not fully met
In response to the rising food prices, the Government the needs of the affected population. Therefore, Ac-
of Liberia introduced a number of short- and long- tion Against Hunger proposes a number of additional
term policies to combat high food prices ranging from short, medium and long-term interventions.
supplementary feeding programs to import bans, a
ceiling price for rice, suspension of import tax for rice, In the short-term, Action Against Hunger recom-
negotiations with several countries for in-kind finan- mends increasing the capacity for tackling malnu-
cial support and agricultural interventions. trition by improving surveillance of the Ministry of
Health and scaling-up treatment of acute malnutrition
Agricultural interventions included increasing the na- through feeding centres. Daily wet meals for children
tional budget allocated to agriculture from 3.4 percent under three years old and cash or food vouchers to
in 2007/2008 to 6.8 percent in the 2008/2009 fiscal pregnant and lactating women could support these
year and the ‘back to soil initiative’, launched at the initiatives by targeting the groups most at risk of mal-
end of June 2008, encouraging the urban population nutrition. Efforts must also be made to improve the
to work on farms in rural areas. It is likely that ben- purchasing power of poor and vulnerable groups
efits of urban living, such as greater work opportuni- through cash handouts.
ties, better health and education services, and easy
access to markets, will make it difficult to persuade In the medium and long-term, policies should focus
youthful urbanites to invest their futures in farming. on improving dietary diversity of poor households by
supporting vegetable production in the urban and
The government also established a ceiling price for peri-urban context or providing employment guar-
rice of $30 at wholesale and $31 at retail level for antee schemes to boost income. The government is
50kg rice. However, rice is usually sold in cups on in- strongly urged to seek greater independence from the
formal markets for which there is little regulation – the international food market for staple food, particularly
equivalent price of American parboiled rice sold by in the urban context of Monrovia. Swampland can
the cup was $50 for 50 kilos at the time of the study. be farmed, food storage improved and infrastructure
Poorer households were unable to afford the cost of developed. Greater regulation of rice prices is also
a 50 kilo bag of rice and so paid a higher price than needed to address the market failures that underpin
richer consumers who bought in bulk. seasonal price fluctuations. Finally, the government
must boost small-scale farm production by increasing
The government suspension of the 2.1$/bag tax on small-holder bargaining power, supporting communi-
imported rice may have been beneficial to consum- ty-based cooperatives and integrating markets within
ers but could have adverse effects in the long-run. the country.

12

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity
© ACF / S. Hauenstein Swan

Why Has the World Not Experienced verse effects on physical and mental development
A Global Famine? of young children; it is possible that we will see an
It is clear that seasonal price increases result in in- increase in stunting in the future.
creased hunger and malnutrition. Although district-lev-
el data in Ethiopia shows that global rises in food prices Surveys generally measure child malnutrition.
may be having an effect on malnutrition rates, similar Parents in developing countries often reduce their
surveys at the national or global level are not indicative own consumption to ensure their children are fed –
of a consistent sharp rise of malnutrition in all coun- meaning there will be a lagged increase in child mal-
tries. There are a number of reasons why increases nutrition when families begin to exhaust basic coping
in malnutrition rates are not visible in the survey data: strategies.

Survey data is not always complete or compa- Global food price rises are only a single factor
rable. Surveys are often done in different areas, by while seasonal malnutrition has many causes of which
different organizations, with different methodologies. changes in food prices are only a single dimension.
The case study of Ethiopia shows that clear trends
between price rises and malnutrition are only visible Global price changes do not entail local supply
at the district-level. deficits, as is generally the case in the hunger sea-
son, when village stocks are low.
Malnutrition surveys often measure wasting,
which is not the only type of malnutrition. Reducing Importantly, the Global Food Crisis may resem-
food quality and quantity as a primary coping strategy ble a slow-onset disaster rather than a seasonal
may induce micronutrient malnutrition, a more ‘hid- spike, meaning people may have more time to ad-
den type’ of malnutrition likely to occur before weight just, and malnutrition rates will only show increases
loss. Micronutrient deficiencies have long-term ad- months or years later.

13

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

© ACF / S. Hauenstein Swan


From Global Policy to Local Action gically rather than simply managing malnutrition on
When presented at the High Level Conference on moral grounds. WFP’s success in achieving its target
World Food Security in June 2008, the UN Compre- of US$755 million in additional funds, demonstrated
hensive Framework for Action conservatively estimat- that food aid remains the only large-scale, compre-
ed that US$25-40 billion per year in additional fund- hensive intervention that the international community
ing is required to restore global food and nutritional is willing to support. The international response is
security – focusing predominantly on food production sending an alarming and dangerous message: “we
and less on hunger. This figure appears insufficient; are not seriously concerned with hunger”.
Action Against Hunger estimates that US$38-70 bil-
lion per year would permit the implementation of an The lack of response was not the result of inadequate
“essential minimum package” (Deveruex et al 2008 information. Early warning systems, such as FEWS
page 110) to effectively combat seasonal hunger NET, did provide the international community with
worldwide. This ‘minimum package’ does not include the information necessary to respond to growing
any provisions required to promote agricultural devel- food prices as early as 2005, but failed to trigger seri-
opment nor functioning markets. ous debate until riots broke out and media coverage
raised the stakes in early 2008. Links between early
Following the High Level Conference, world leaders warning systems and decision-making processes
pledged a mere US$12.3 billion to tackle the Food must be questioned and revised.
Crisis, but donated only US$1billion to date – the
lowest ratio of materialised funds to funds pledged Effective interventions will depend largely on ade-
of any global appeal in recent history. This disap- quate funding and the creation of national coordina-
pointing sum of materialised funds illustrates once tion bodies that inform political leaders and policymak-
again that hunger is seen as part of the context and ers about the burden hunger and malnutrition impose
does not deserve specific attention or greater priori- on all forms of development. The global community
tisation, and seriously questions the commitment of needs to overcome petty competition for resources
14
governments and donors to tackling hunger strate- and concentrate on the needs and rights of all citizens.

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

The four case studies illustrate the importance of lo- Conclusions


cal variation and, hence, the need for locally-adapted Data from Ethiopia shows that high prices have been
responses. The inability of past initiatives to address closely followed by an increase in malnutrition and
hunger to establish awareness and an inclusive under-five mortality rates. However, not all countries
sphere for policy dialogue, bringing together civil have been affected equally. Findings from the Cen-
society, NGOs and national and international policy tral African Republic reveal only modest increases
makers, must be addressed if we are to make real in prices and statistically insignificant increases in
progress towards MDG 1 and 4. Hunger and malnu- malnutrition. Research in Sierra Leone showed that
trition have to be perceived as strategic priorities by even within Freetown, the capital city, prices and
all divisions of national governments including the household reactions varied. As experienced in many
ministries of finance – valuing their importance the regional famines, the response to the current food
environment, economic and human development security crisis has been poor – Action Against Hun-
and security. ger’s investigation in Liberia identified a number of
flaws in the national responses to the soaring prices
The recent emergence of the Global Partnership for and rising malnutrition rates.
Agriculture and Food Security and the UN High Lev-
el Task Force has injected new life into the debate While one has to be careful not to attribute chang-
surrounding food security and nutrition. These bod- es in food security and malnutrition to only a single
ies should ultimately be judged on how responsive factor, the evidence suggests that high global food
they are to the specific needs and context of each prices have had a substantial negative impact on
country. The definition and design of national and livelihoods, and possibly malnutrition. High prices
global strategies should involve a wide range of ac- decrease access to food and lead to a reduction in
tors, particularly civil society groups. We must look the diversity and quantity of diets, especially among
past specific organizational agendas and interests to the poor.
provide a comprehensive plan of action rather than a
patchwork of disjointed initiatives and limited poten- The similarity between coping mechanisms em-
tial impact. ployed during seasonal price spikes and the global
price rises in 2008 is striking. This realisation must
Chiefly concerned with the treatment of malnutrition be adopted when designing adequate interventions,
and the sustainable eradication of its causes, Ac- as responses to seasonal hunger are tried and tested
tion Against Hunger is calling for major donors of to and can be quickly budgeted into national and interna-
demonstrate their commitment to the eradication of tional action plans. To date the international response
hunger immediately. Between US$70 and 150 million to high and volatile food price has been ineffectual.
in predictable annual funding would allow a compre- Action Against Hunger urges donors to provide the
hensive pilot intervention to treat one million malnour- necessary funds to immediately establish a pilot in-
ished children in five priority countries. tervention to comprehensively tackle malnutrition in
five priority countries.
© ACF / S. Hauenstein Swan

The financial crisis, the cessation of local protests,


riots and violence and the decline of global food pric-
es have led many to refocus their attention on other
priorities. It would be irresponsible for national gov-
ernments and the international community to assume
that this crisis was a one-off event and to wait for the
15
next to come. Despite no clear increase in malnu-

Action Against Hunger


www.actionagainsthunger.org
Feeding Hunger and Insecurity

trition, globally, more and more people are sacrific- References


ACF. 2008a. Evaluation de la situation nutritionnelle dans la ville de
ing future welfare for immediate survival, adopting Bangui; quel impact de la crise alimentaire mondiale dans la capitale
damaging coping strategies to maintain staple food centrafricaine?. Internal report by B. Bauge and M. Broquet. Sep-
tember 2008.
consumption. This will have long-term implications
ACF. 2008b. Freetown nutrition assessment, ‘rising food prices and
for poverty, vulnerability and malnutrition. The picture nutritional status of children’. Internal report by S. Laurence. 1st Oc-
presented here provides a glimpse of the complicated tober – 11th November, 2008.

connection between high and unpredictable prices on ACF. 2008c. Staple food price evolution, impact analysis 2006-2008.
Internal report by A. L. Coutin, T. Eshetu and I. Guisset.
the global market and malnutrition at the lowest level.
However, not fully understanding all the dimensions ACF. 2008d. Surge in basic commodity prices, impact of the food
crisis in Liberia, and particularly in the urban context of Monrovia.
of the Global Food Crisis will not prevent the future Internal report by C. Broudic. 12th May – 15th June, 2008.
from unfolding – if action is not taken now, high food Abebe, Y., Stoecker B.J., Hinds M.J., Gates G.E., Nutritive value and
prices will trap millions of children in a downward spi- sensory acceptability of corn- and kocho-based foods supplemented
with legumes for infant feeding in southern Ethiopia. African Journal
ral of poverty and malnutrition. of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development. 2006. Vol 6:1.

Devereux, S., Vaitla, B. and Hauenstein-Swan, S. 2008. Seasons of


hunger: fighting cycles of quiet starvation among the world’s rural
Briefing paper by Samuel Hauenstein Swan, poor. London: Pluto Press
Sierd Hadley and Bernardette Cichon
ENCU. 2008. Survey Library [Online]. Available at: http://www.dppc.
gov.et/pages/ ENCU.htm

FAO/UNDP/UNESCO/UNICEF/WFP/WHO. 2008a. High Food Prices


in Pakistan. Impact Assessment and the way forward.

FAO. 2008b. Commodity Prices. Trade and markets [Online]. Avail-


able at: http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/FoodPricesIndex/en/

Feeding Hunger Government of Tajikistan/WFP. 2008. Emergency Food Security As-


and Insecurity sessment in urban areas in Tajikistan.
Field analysis of volatile
High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis. 2008.
global food commodity Comprehensive Framework for Action.
prices, food security and
child malnutrition LVAC/ WFP. 2008. Vulnerability and food insecurity in urban areas of
Lesotho. An assessment of the impact of high prices on vulnerable
Written by households in ten major cities.
Samuel Hauenstein Swan,
Sierd Hadley and WFP. 2008a. Impact of rising food prices in Yemen.
Bernardette Cichon WFP. 2008b. The impact of high prices on food security assessment
in Liberia.

WFP. 2008c. Recent food price developments in most vulnerable


countries. Issue No. 2, December 2008.
Available online at www.actionagainsthunger.org

Action Against Hunger briefing papers provide information on


important development and humanitarian issues. Readers
Endnotes
1 Acute malnutrition, also known as wasting, is measured as weight- can reproduce material or quote from these briefing papers if
for–height in children and reflects current food intake. Two commonly Action Against Hunger is named as the copyright holder and is
used terms that are often used to describe the extent of wasting in given appropriate acknowledgement. Please email details of
children are Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and Moderate Acute publications that quote Action Against Hunger briefing papers
Malnutrition (MAM). Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) includes se-
to hungerwatch@aahuk.org
verely and moderately malnourished children. Children with severe
acute malnutrition are at risk of death and require urgent treatment
with therapeutic foods. Action Against Hunger briefing papers and publications are
available at www.actionagainsthunger.org
2 Leones (US$1:Le2920)

ACTION AGAINST HUNGER


247 West 37th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018
info@actionagainsthunger.org
www.actionagainsthunger.org